Quechans file suit to stop refinery land transfer

March 29, 2007

BY JOYCE LOBECK, SUN STAFF WRITER

 

            The bureau's environmental impact statement fails to "adequately evaluate the oil refinery project and the associated impacts to cultural and environmental resources," according to the Quechan Tribe’s lead attorney, Frank Jozwiak of Morisset, Schlosser, Jozwiak and McGaw of Seattle, Wash., in the statement.

 

            The Quechan Indian Tribe announced Thursday that it intends to file a lawsuit Friday in federal court to stop the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation’s land transfer to the Wellton-Mohawk Irrigation and Drainage District.

            The suit will claim that the USBR inadequately addressed the potential impact of the land transfer and the proposed refinery planned for a portion of the land. While land in the transfer isn't tribal land, it is significant culturally and historically to the Quechans, said Mike Jackson Sr., Quechan Tribe president, in a prepared statement.

            On Monday, USBR transferred ownership of the lands and facilities for the irrigation that the district operates to WMIDD. WMIDD also purchased additional land, which it then sold to Arizona Clean Fuels.

            Arizona Clean Fuels plans to build an oil refinery on the 1,460 acres in eastern Yuma County.

            “The tribe does not oppose the transfer or the refinery," Jackson said. "However, the tribe’s lawsuit is necessary to protect our cultural resources from further, permanent destruction. The bureau failed to conduct meaningful government-to-government consultation with the tribe and ignored the tribe’s concerns throughout the process.”

            The tribe’s suit will ask the federal court in Phoenix to stop any further transfers or development activities on the transferred lands until USBR "performs an adequate analysis of impacts associated with the transfer, including impacts to cultural resources, air quality and water quality," Jackson said.

            Bob Walsh, USBR spokesman for the Lower Colorado Region, said USBR completed the required environmental impact statement "on the land and what is there at this time."

            "If they file a lawsuit, we will address it when it comes in," Walsh said.

            The bureau's dealings were with WMIDD and not the refinery developer, he said.

            Ian Calkins, spokesman for Arizona Clean Fuels, said that "it's our belief whatever issues the tribe might have are between it and the federal government."

            Charles Slocum, manager of WMIDD, could not be reached for comment Thursday afternoon.

            The bureau's environmental impact statement fails to "adequately evaluate the oil refinery project and the associated impacts to cultural and environmental resources," according to the Quechan Tribe’s lead attorney, Frank Jozwiak of Morisset, Schlosser, Jozwiak and McGaw of Seattle, Wash., in the statement.

            The environmental impact statement fails to meet federal laws that require the bureau to "evaluate and address all impacts of the land transfer on the human environment, including air, water and cultural resources, up front, in an open public process, not after development of the refinery has begun,” said Jozwiak.

            Jackson also said in the statement that the tribe wants the USBR to more adequately identify tribal cultural resources in the land transferred and to adopt measures to protect them.